The Importance Of The Dowry 3

What really distinguished Jacob at this time, was his attitude towards Rachel, and the promises of God. Jacob was a long-term planner, who took God’s covenant promises  (Gen. 25:21-23; 27:26-29; 28:10-16) to him as a father and as a descendent of Abraham, very seriously. Jacob’s twin-brother Esau married when only forty years old, (Gen.26:34) but Jacob was prepared to wait.1 He not only waited seven years for Rachel after he met her, of his own volition, (Gen.29:18) but he had to serve Laban for another seven year period, (Gen.29:27) whilst married to her. Furthermore, Rachel could not conceive until her sister Leah, had borne seven children (Gen.30:19-24). I am indebted to Dr Gary North for his insight on this subject:

Lower class people are not patient. They resist any suggestion of deferred gratification in life. In contrast, upper-class people are willing to wait to be gratified. This is why upper-class people are more thrifty, make long-range plans, and remain in school longer than lower-class people. The generation of the exodus was a lower-class generation. Their children were not to imitate them.2

North makes another comment which is applicable to Jacob:

It is this future orientation that marks the free man’s perspective. He makes decisions in terms of the future, has confidence in the future, and can happily sacrifice present income for increased income in the future. As a responsible agent in God’s kingdom, the redeemed man is motivated more by future successes than by present enjoyments.3

The dowry amount or requirement was entirely at the discretion of the bride’s father. David, when offered the hand of Saul’s daughter, believed that he would be too poor to raise a sufficient bride price for a king’s daughter (I Sam.18:20-27), but Saul (in conspiring against David) settled on a non-cash settlement. Shechem, when his rape of Dinah was exposed (Gen.34:1-12) was willing to pay whatever was required to marry her; his commitment was actually in harmony with the law, given later. (Deut.22:28-29)

Caleb simply promised his daughter, to the one who would be victorious in battle against the inhabitants of Debir. (Judges 1:11-13) Samson, who is not famous for the restraint of his passions, acknowledged his father’s obligation to get a wife for him. (Judges 14:1-2) The fact that he was not compelled by his father-in-law to pay a bride price, may have contributed to his indifference towards his Philistine wife. (Judges 14:19-20) North’s comments are again, helpful here.

The payment of a bride price by the bridegroom is a sign of his subordination and obligation to the bride’s family. The text [Ex.22:16-17] discusses “the dowry of virgins.” The text does not specify how much this was. The reason for this omission is that this payment was negotiable between families within each economic class. The Bible could not specify a particular price without either placing it out of the reach for most Israelites or else trivialising it for the rich. The price was not set so high that the poor would be forced to adopt concubinage-marriage without a dowry-or so low that the rich could dismiss it as nothing more than mere ritual. Also, if a poor man wanted to marry a rich girl, her father could set the bride price lower than his intended dowry for her in order to test the willingness of a prospective bridegroom to work hard to earn what for him would be a large sum, but which would nevertheless be a pittance for the father. This was the problem David faced (I Sam.18:23). The bride price was, first, a ritual sign of subordination; second, it was a screening device for the girl’s parents; and third, it was a means of compensating the girl’s family for the expense of the dowry. The first two aspects were more important than the third. Thus, a fixed bride price was not set by Biblical law. The existence of its requirement was far more important than the actual money involved, with only two judicial exceptions: the case of seduction (Ex.22:16-17) and the accused harlotry (Deut.22:13-19).4

In order for a father and son to be able to work co-operatively, in the selection of a wife, there needs to be a consistent pattern, established over many years from childhood, of a warm, viable, working relationship. After a man’s relationship with his wife, this one (along with his relationships with his daughters) is the most important he will have. This relationship will need to be characterised by the honour and fear of God, tenderness, trust, integrity and faithfulness. Isaac, when his father took him up on Mount Moriah, certainly trusted Abraham to deal rightfully with him. (Gen.22:1-10) Later, when the servant was sent to procure a wife for him, Isaac, along with Abraham, had to wait in faith for his successful return, when Isaac it seems, played no part in the servant’s commissioning (Gen.24:1-9, 62-67). This required that Isaac trust God, his father, and the servant, that the whole plan would be successful.

Footnotes:
1. When he went to Egypt to be re-united with Joseph, Jacob was 130 (Gen.47:9), and Joseph was 39, for Joseph had been 30 when initially called to Pharoah’s presence, (Gen. 41:46)  and there had been 7 years of plenty, and 2 years of famine, (Gen.45:11) before Jacob came down to Egypt. Thus Jacob was 91 when Joseph was born. Therefore, he must have met Rachel (Gen.29:9-12) when he was 77, and married her when 84, but due to her infertility, Joseph (Rachel’s first child) wasn’t born until near the end of his 2nd 7 year dowry period, (Gen.30:22-25) when Jacob was about 91. He lived to be 147.
2. North, G., Sanctions and Dominion, 1997, p.143.
3. North, G., Moses and Pharoah, 1986, p.260.
4. North, G., Tools of Dominion, 1990, p.647-648.

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